Monday, October 13, 2008

On the Vallenses as Baptists

I believe in church perpetuity: that there has always been, since Christ’s institution of the church, a body of believers who are essentially pure in doctrine and practice. This does not deny that true churches of Christ have differed in many points of theology. It does affirm that there has always been somewhere, a body of saved, baptized believers. It does also deny that the Reformers, as blessed as they were for theological insight, did not resurrect the doctrine of grace-based salvation from millennia of obscurity.

The purpose of this article is not to immediately arrive at a dogmatic position on whether the Albigenses, Vallenses, and other primitive non-papal groups should be considered orthodox or heterodox. Rather I wish to encourage an open-minded, objective approach as I try to determine the “denominational persuasion” of the ancient Vallenses.

In 1542, the Vallenses delivered to Francis I of France, their confession of faith. An examination of their confession reveals that they differed greatly from their Roman opponents: they held to justification through the merits of Christ alone, they rejected purgatory altogether, they acknowledged the Bible as the sole rule of faith, they rejected the veneration of Mary and other saints, they denied the doctrine of transubstantiation, and they derided the adoration of images.1As encouraging as that may sound to those who wish to identify the Vallenses as purely a Baptistic group, there is also evidence within their confession to indicate a more Protestant identity. Notice these Vallensic differences from most modern independent, fundamental, Baptists:

1. A Belief in the Universal Church – “There is one Holy Catholic Church, which is the Congregation and Assembly of all true believers faithful and elect of God, who have been from the beginning of the world, and shall be to the end; of which Church Jesus Christ is the head.”2

2. An Affirmation of Infant Baptism – “They greatly err, who deny Baptism to the children of Christians." 3

3. A Consubstantiation View of the Lord’s Supper - “Therefore, the truly faithful of Jesus Christ eat his flesh and drink his blood spiritually in their hearts.”4

4. A Postmillennial Eschatology – The Vallenses, as stated in the ancient document The Noble Lesson, believed the 1,000 year millennium predicted in the book of Revelation had transpired somewhere between the nativity of Christ and the year 1000 A. D. They considered their age to be the time when Satan would be let loose for an unspecified amount of time (Rev. 20:3).5 They seemed to believe the Millennium to be a literal 1,000 years, that the church age was the Millennium, and that Christ’s summing up of all things was night at hand. Of course, this greatly differs from contemporary postmillennialism, but it is also far removed from modern Baptist premillennial, pretribulation dispensational eschatology.

From here, though, the plot thickens. Faber, whose work thus far I have cited exclusively, depends largely on the ancient Vallensic documents brought to England from Piedmont in 1658 by Sir Samuel Morland.6 Modern Roman Catholic apologist Phil Porvaznik refers to Baptist historian McGoldrick’s book, Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History, where McGoldrick states that Morland’s ancient Vallensic documents were actually the work of Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer, “copied almost verbatim.”7

So what are we to make of all this? If Morland’s documents are faulty, then Faber’s definitions of Vallensic theology before the 16th century may be inaccurate. But certainly, what was submitted as a confession of faith in to the king of France in 1542 identifies the 16th century French Vallenses as more Protestant than Baptistic.

But questions linger: was the confession of faith submitted in 1542 the original expression of Vallensic theology, or had it changed over the years? Are Samuel Morland’s documents spurious, as McGoldrick believes?

More on this later.


1 George Stanley Faber, The History of the Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1838; reprint, Dayton, OH: Church History and Research Archive, 1990) 426-431.
2 Ibid., 435-436.
3 Ibid., 439.
4 Ibid., 440.
5 Ibid., 389.
6 Ibid., 369
7 Phil Parvaznik, “Who Were the Waldenses? Early Evangelicals?”, 23 June 2007, (13 October 2008)